Eric Holder Dropped The Ball On The Trayvon Martin Investigation

Eric Holder Dropped The Ball On The Trayvon Martin Investigation
Eric Holder

AFRICANGLOBE – The NAACP delivered 1.7 million signatures to the U. S. Department of Justice a year ago, requesting a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford.

Despite the outrage and demands for justice after Zimmerman was acquitted of manslaughter, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to announce a clear answer on his findings in the shooting of the unarmed 17-year-old who quickly became a household name across America.

Ben Jealous, the NAACP President who collected and electronically delivered the signatures says he’s disappointed at the delay, but is still awaiting Holder’s answer.

‘Keeping The faith’

“Attorney General Holder was very responsive when we initially reached out to ask for answers around Trayvon Martin,” says Jealous, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

“It is disappointing that the investigation has gone on for so long without a conclusion when the injustice is so evident. However, I am keeping the faith. I’m encouraged by the swift response Holder’s Justice Department has had so far in Ferguson.”

Not Guilty Verdict

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012. Despite national outcries, a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of manslaughter on July 13, 2013. The case largely centered on a debate over whether Zimmerman was defending himself although he was the one who confronted and pursued Trayvon Martin against the advice of a 911 operator.

Using expletives, Zimmerman said on the 911 tape, “They always get away.”

civil rights leaders and others, this statement was clear evidence that Martin, wearing a hoodie, was racially profiled by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman. The unarmed teenager was walking home from a store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea.

Response To Ferguson

After the controversial verdict in the criminal trial, justice seekers, largely led by the NAACP and ColorOfChange, then sought redress through the Justice Department, pushing for an indictment on a civil rights violation.

Holder promised a thorough investigation but has yet to announce a conclusion.

On Aug. 29, a group pushing for justice in the Aug. 9 Michael Brown killing by Ferguson, Mo. police officer, Darren Wilson, delivered more than 900,000 signatures on a petition, also in support of a civil rights charge.

Holder, who visited the Ferguson amidst unrest over the killing of Michael Brown, who was also unarmed, has again promised a thorough investigation into the case in which witnesses said Michael Brown had raised his hands when shot. A grand jury will determine whether to bring criminal charges against the officer.

Keeping Hope Alive

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, says Holder’s silence on the Martin case could engender a lack of confidence in the Brown and other cases.

“We want an answer,” says Jackson. “The wheels of justice must move quickly or it will erode people’s confidence,” he said, adding he hopes Holder’s response on Martin “will come soon.”

We attempted several times to attain the Justice Department’s status on the civil rights investigation in the Sanford case. However, Press Secretary Kevin Lewis had not responded to two phone calls and an email sent earlier this year. Lewis is the former Black Press liaison at the White House under the Obama Administration.

A ‘Different’ Holder

On Nov. 4, 2013, Holder, questioned by reporters at an unrelated press conference, said the Justice Department had not yet decided whether to file charges against Zimmerman, but that the investigation was continuing.

Civil rights leaders acknowledge that Holder has not given an answer, but they are also hoping that both criminal and civil rights charges in the death of Michael Brown will bring change.

“Holder is different on this one,” says Barbara Arnwine, executive director and CEO of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that called for the civil rights investigation in the Trayvon Martin case.

“He’s not the same man he was at that time,” says Arnwine, pointing out that since the death of Martin, Holder has “spent two years investigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system” and has begun to push policy changes.

Ogletree, Crump Respond

Still there are those who say more should have been done on all fronts.

“The death of Michael Brown makes me angry and disappointed in the lack of progress since the death of Trayvon Martin,” says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, founder and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

He says the greatest sign of hope will be the arrest and prosecution of the police officer who killed Brown.

Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, agrees with Ogletree.

“Every case is unique,” he said. “All I know about this case is that he was executed.”

Crump said he believes the shootings will diminish when “the shooters are held accountable for the killing of our children.”


By: Hazel Trice Edney